For a Saudi, whether living within or out of Saudi Arabia, life can be compared to living in a fishbowl at many times. What do I mean by that? What a Saudi does or how a Saudi acts is watched closely by other Saudis. A Saudi has to be conscious of what he or she says or does as that will reflect not only on the Saudi but on the extended family.
There are all kind of “watchers” in Saudi Arabia. The muttawa are probably the most overt of the watchers. It is their official responsibility to prevent vice and protect morality. As a result they are openly seen in the malls, shopping centers, outside of grocery stores and many other places known to have large gatherings of society.
The other “watchers” are comprised of peers, friends, family and the others in Saudi society. Saudis can be judged by other Saudis by the way they wear their clothes, the way they walk or the way they talk.
I remember from my own personal experiences my own dear husband chastising me if I innocently and spontaneous reached out for his hand or touched his arm when we were out shopping if I wanted to show him something. “Don’t do that!” He’d caution me. “People are watching and will think you are a loose woman.”
I asked him why did it matter what others thought. Most of them were unknown to us. He told me that you never knew who could be watching, especially of the women who were veiled. They could recognize us and form negative impressions that would make its way back to family besides tarnishing the family name.
Many times he’d ask me to cover my head while we were in the car if there was a lot of congested traffic around us for fear that someone who knew him would see us. Not everyone in the extended family were in support of choosing to not wear a hijjab. He also said that society would view us as more respectable.
By the same token, the many times we were outside of Saudi Arabia, it was common for my husband and other Saudis to express with joy how they felt free. It was in no way meant to be against Saudi Arabia. All these individuals are and were proud of their nationality and their country. But at those times, it would be my husband who would take the initiative to hold my hand as we walked through a shopping center.
Many times, I would hear a Saudi express “If I only had a simple life.” My husband was among those. I believe my husband meant that he wanted a life where he did not worry about perceptions of others. He wanted to feel comfortable to say whatever he thought without a fear of repercussion if overheard by the wrong individual. He did not want to fear a challenge by the muttawa if he was with me who chose not to cover her head. He wanted to be comfortable and relaxed wherever he was and not only within the confines of his home or outside of the Kingdom.
I’d like to hear from other Saudis and what is their view of a simple life.
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